Welcome back to Bro Basics, a series that covers exercises that are popular and can be useful but are often done inadequately and solely for aesthetics and shows the exercises’ broader function and how to perform them correctly.
In our last edition of Bro Basics, we covered a popular back exercise done with a machine: the lat pulldown. Today we tackle another popular back exercise — this one done with free weights: the row.
For insights about how to perform the row, I turned to Barbell Logic strength coach, Nick Soleyn. Below we’ll get into his advice on why and how to incorporate the row into your workouts.
What Muscles Are Worked by the Row?
There are different variations of the row, and each one targets different muscle groups a little differently. But every type of row works the same basic muscles.
Similar to the lat pulldown, the primary muscle that the row engages is the latissimus dorsi. This is the broad, flat muscle that stretches across the back of your torso and goes under your arms. Your lats stabilize your shoulders, help with posture, allow you to swim and rock climb, and even assist in breathing.
The row also works the rhomboids, a muscle group responsible for maintaining good posture. Another group of back muscles the row strengthens is your spinal erectors, which run down the length of your spine. You use your spinal erectors to maintain a strong torso while performing the squat and deadlift and to keep you standing straight during your day-to-day life. Strong spinal erectors = fewer back pain problems.
The row also indirectly works your biceps, shoulders, and forearm muscles.
Why Do Rows?
Strengthens a common human movement. You do row movements in your daily life. Pulling the starter cord on the lawnmower, lifting heavy objects off the ground, opening heavy doors, and raking leaves are everyday movements that can be supported by the row.
Contributes directly to the main barbell lifts. If you’re serious about your barbell lifts, you need to do rows. Building a strong, broad back gives you a bigger “shelf” for the barbell when you squat. A stronger back can help you create a more prominent arch when you bench and have more stability when pressing weight overhead.
Most obviously, rows will help your deadlift. At some point, just deadlifting is not enough to continue building your back. Rows can be done with relatively heavy weights while targeting the back more directly than the deadlift. The row also helps improve grip strength which is vital on the deadlift.
Great alternative to pull-ups and lat pulldowns. Most strength programs include pull-ups because they work a wide range of back and upper body muscles. But to get the benefits of pull-ups, you need to be able to do at least five in a set. You’re not going to get stronger doing just one stinking pull-up.
When an athlete can’t complete multiple pull-up reps, a coach will often program lat pulldowns since they work the same muscles as pull-ups. But many people don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine. Wut do?
You do rows. That’s wut do.
You just need a barbell or some dumbbells. Heck, as we’ll see, you actually don’t even need any weights at all.
Aesthetics, brah! Want to make the ladies swoon and dudes respect you? Then you want a v-shaped torso: large chest, shoulder, and back muscles that taper down to a narrower waist. The row is a fantastic lift that can increase the size of your back (and even your shoulders), helping you develop that masculine v-shape.
How to Do the Row: Row Variations
The basic row movement is a pull toward your chest with good posture and a braced and stable core. The movement can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, or bodyweight. Below we highlight the most common row varieties for strength and sport.
Basic Barbell Row